Is Methadone Treatment for Life?

Before undergoing medical treatment, people generally want to know how long a particular course of treatment will last. It’s a normal question to ask, but when it comes to methadone, it’s a very difficult one to answer.

Some people will stay on methadone for weeks, some for years, some for decades, and some for life.

In general, longer periods of methadone treatment are associated with a decreased likelihood of relapsing back into opiate use and addiction; however, fewer than one in five methadone patients will continue to use for longer than 10 years. The longer your pre-methadone opiate addiction, the more beneficial methadone can be to help you feel “normal.” The good news is that methadone won’t harm any of your body’s major systems or organs, no matter how long you use it.

The Stages of Methadone Treatment

Acute/Induction

During the primary/induction phase of methadone maintenance treatment, your dosage will be adjusted until you feel a comfortable level of symptoms relief and no drug cravings. During this first phase, you will start participating in auxiliary counseling and health programs while taking methadone.

Rehabilitative and Maintenance Phases

After you achieve a steady and a comfortable dosage, you will continue to take your dosage on a daily basis at the clinic during the rehabilitative/maintenance phase of care. Over time, as you demonstrate program compliance, no illicit drug use and positive lifestyle changes, you may be allowed increasing numbers of take-home doses per week. After two years of maintenance treatment, methadone maintenance treatment patients are eligible for month-long take-home doses.

Tapering

Clients may begin tapering their dosage to get off methadone at any time, although most doctors advise at least a year of methadone maintenance treatment — and longer times spent in methadone maintenance treatment are associated with better treatment outcomes.

Tapering can take weeks or (preferably) months. Slower tapering schedules, with longer intervals between more gradual dose reductions, are considerably more comfortable than accelerated tapering.

When Are You Ready to Taper Your Methadone Use?

No one can say when another person will be ready to taper, and some people never reach a point when they want to, or feel like they can or should, taper their methadone use.

Tapering is associated with a substantially increased risk of relapse back to opiate abuse and addiction, and so it is vital that no one is coerced (for example, by clinic personnel, family members, or employers) into starting the tapering process.

Characteristics of people who may be ready to begin tapering methadone use:

  • Have a stable home and family life, with a reliable income.
  • Show a lengthy history of methadone maintenance treatment program compliance.
  • Have a primary methadone maintenance treatment counselor who agrees with the timing and readiness for the taper.
  • Be committed to returning to methadone maintenance treatment in the event of a relapse.
  • Avoid the abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Defining Success in Methadone Maintenance Treatment

You don’t have to stop using methadone before you can call the treatment a success. Some people who remain as patients of a methadone maintenance treatment program can be considered great successes by measures such as quality of life, freedom from drug use, and general health. Some people find that due to the physiological effects of a long heroin addiction, life with methadone is simply more comfortable and rewarding than life without methadone – and there is nothing at wrong with that.

Engaging in a methadone maintenance treatment program and staying healthy, happy, free from opiate addiction is ultimately the best success, regardless of the duration of methadone use.